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Trail blazers

NFCT crews work to improve trails in the Adirondacks

July 17, 2010
By MIKE LYNCH, Enterprise Outdoors Writer

Standing on a revamped section of trail on the Eighth Lake carry, Northern Forest Canoe Trail field coordinator Noah Pollock reflected on the past few days of work that his crew, with the help of several volunteers, had just finished.

"This section of trail, which we believe is an old road, had really become a significant gully," Pollock said. "Water was running down the middle of it. Soil was running into the lake, so it was pretty steep and slippery and it was just going to get worse."

To improve the trail, the crew made a slight reroute near the lake, lessening the grade of the take-out. They improved drainage, re-vegetated some areas suffering from erosion and generally created a better trail without making much of an impact on the surrounding environment.

Article Photos

Kevin Large, trail crew member of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, clears a grassy section of the Eighth Lake carry.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)

Over the course of the summer, many paddlers should benefit from the work done on the trail. The carry is a popular one that connects Eighth Lake and the Browns Track Inlet. On July 1, when the crew finished, more than a dozen canoes from a local children's camp used the carry, in addition to several recreational paddlers who were on camping and fishing trips. The trail is also part of the first day of the Adirondack Canoe Classic race every September, when it will be used by hundreds of people.

The work done on the Eighth Lake trail was the first of several projects that the crew, with the help of volunteers, will undertake in New York. They made improvements to the Buttermilk Falls carry between Forked Lake and Long Lake, and this weekend, are finishing up a project to improve access and campsites at Franklin Falls.

The six-person crew consists of environmentally conscious college students or recent graduates like Brendan Jackson, who graduated from Paul Smith's College in 2008 with a forestry major concentrating on recreation resource management. This is Jackson's fifth summer of working outdoors. The last two years he worked as an assistant forest ranger for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, a program that was cut this spring due to budget cuts. This year, he decided to give NFCT a try.

Fact Box

What is the Northern Forest Canoe Trail?

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is a 740-mile trail for paddlers that starts in Old Forge and ends in Fort Kent, Maine. It passes through four states and one Canadian province: New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Quebec. It includes 147 miles of waterways and carries in New York. On July 24, the organization will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in Rangeley, Maine. For more information visit

740 Miles in one day

To celebrate the Northern Forest Canoe Trail's 10th anniversary, on Saturday, July 24, kayakers and canoeists are being asked to participate in "740 Miles in One Day." Anyone paddling on any waterway of the 740-mile trail that starts in Old Forge and ends in Fort Kent, Maine can contribute to "740 Miles in One Day," with the goal to paddle the total mileage of the trail between sunrise and 5 p.m. Pre-registration for the free event is open at the event website:

"I was looking for a job that was a lot more trail work specific," Jackson said. "The last jobs I've had were outdoor jobs but they weren't so much in the trail work and maintenance aspect of recreation resource management. It was more the people aspect."

The work done at the Eighth Lake carry is also an example of the collaborative effort between paid NFCT staff and local volunteers that is happening on several different levels. At Eighth Lake, work was done by the NFCT trail crew with the help of members from the Lake Clear-based Adirondack Watershed Alliance. AWA is a paddling club that organizes Adirondack stewardship projects and paddlesport activities, including the 90-Miler.

Brian McDonnell, who heads the AWA, first learned about the NFCT idea two decades ago when it was in its infant stages. Since then, the idea for the trail has grown on him and he's worked with its NFCT organizers in recent years on projects in the Adirondacks, for several reasons.

"I utilize the state land to make my living, and I am directly involved in the paddlesport industry, and I feel its important to give back to the resource," McDonnell said. "And I recognize that the state with the lack of assistant forest rangers and less and less trail crew it becomes imperative that people volunteer and step up."

In fact, two days before helping finish the work at Eighth Lake, McDonnell hosted a meeting at his canoe business in Lake Clear, Mac's Canoe Livery, that was attended by about a dozen other Adirondack trail maintainers.

Trail maintainers, like McDonnell, are stewards who are responsible for small sections of the trail throughout the paddling season. The 740-mile trail is broken into 55 segments that average from 10 to 15 miles. The work they do complements that of the trail crew.

"Usually the backbone of maintenance on any long distance trail (is) the trail maintainer program," NFCT Trail Director Walter Opuszynski said. "For us, it's really a way to divide and conquer the stewardship of the trail. They're all divided up so that nobody is really swamped with a bunch of excess portage trails or campsites. It's broken up into manageable sections, and at a minimum, what we're asking the trail maintainers to do is to keep an eye on the trail."

The program, which is really starting to develop this summer, is fairly structured and provides volunteers with training. The plan is also to provide tools that would be stored at "hubs" every 50 miles along the trail, at places such as the Raquette River Outfitters satellite store on Long Lake. NFCT has even been given 13 canoes by Old Town that can be used.

The trail maintainers program consists of outfitters, guides, paddlers and anyone who has an interest in lending a helping hand. For some people, it serves more than one purpose. For the AWA, which maintains part of Long Lake and the Raquette River, it makes sense because that section is part of the 90-Miler course, which actually makes up a large part of the first section of the NFCT.

For guide Mike Prescott, a trail maintainer whose responsibilities include Long Lake and Forked Lake, it makes sense because he's been involved in the Raquette River Blueway Corridor project. The Blueway Corridor project promotes the Raquette River - which includes Long Lake and Forked Lake - as a tourism destination and is involved with stewardship projects itself.

Prescott, who did a lot of work at Buttermilk Falls, became involved with NFCT several years ago after paddling a traditional route made famous by 19th century writer George Washington Sears that included the first section of the NFCT. He is optimistic that the work done to improve and promote the NFCT, and also the Raquette River, will benefit the region, especially because the lead NFCT is taking here.

"The Raquette River Blueway Corridor plan is coming along, and as different groups get organized and kind of pick a waterway that they really want to focus on, we'll have excellent water trails being maintained by organizations that really want people to have a class canoe experience," Prescott said.

This NFCT trail maintainer program is going so well, Opuszynski said that he sees it being a model for the other states the trail passes through.

"We've got this program going in New York that we can use as a template so that everyone can see what the program is capable of and how it's structured," Opuszynski said. "The Adirondacks, there's a lot of people over there that are very enthused about water trails in particular, and there's a solid stewarding ethic that people have. I think it's a great place to kick it off, and I really see it taking hold and helping be kind of a guiding light as we are moving our way across the trail."

In the meantime, as the trail maintainer program develops, the NFCT's paid trail crew will continue to take on the larger projects as they work their way across the 740-mile water trail. Once they leave New York in the coming days, they plan to spend another month in other states along the trail, sleeping in tents and lean-tos by night and working on the trail by day. For them, it's great opportunity to experience working in the natural world while helping others.

"In this world where people are inside way too much, whatever we can do to encourage people to get outside and enjoy the natural world is a good thing," Pollock said, "and the NFCT does a really good job of improving access and connecting people to the land around them."



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